Commentary: No need to have a panic attack


By John Krull

INDIANAPOLIS – Something about the political process seems to mass-produce hand-wringing and other signs of anxiety among close observers.

At the moment, the 2014 election results have provoked the panic attacks among some otherwise sensible people.

The GOP went into the balloting in a strong position. Republicans controlled every statewide office but one – state superintendent of public instruction. They had a 37-13 supermajority in the Indiana Senate. And the GOP owned a 69-13 supermajority in the Indiana House of Representatives.

After Hoosiers’ votes were cast and counted, that strong position became even stronger. Column by John KrullThe GOP again captured the three statewide offices on the ballot – secretary of state, auditor and treasurer – and the party increased its margins in the Senate and the House.

Republicans now will rule the Senate with a 40-10 majority and the House by a 71-29 count.

The Republicans’ victory – and the Democrats’ thumping – prompted some folks to wail that Indiana now is a one-party state, one step away from being a banana republic.

Not so fast.

First, a couple of factors make these results seem more decisive than they are.

This was an off-year election – and off-year elections tend to have fewer voters than those in other years. Because the members of the Republican base tend to be more committed than their Democratic counterparts – and because money has even more influence in low-turnout elections than it does normally – the effect of having smaller numbers of people show up to vote can be disproportionate.

Then there’s the fact that the maps determining where Hoosiers’ votes get counted were drafted to give the GOP a huge edge.

The final tallies for the 2014 balloting aren’t due to the secretary of state’s office for a few days, so it would be premature to speculate on the ways this year’s election results do not accurately reflect the way Hoosiers voted. We do know, though, that two years ago just slightly more than 53 percent of Indiana voters cast their ballots for Republican House candidates – and the GOP ended up with 69 percent of the seats in that chamber.

There was a time when gerrymandering was an art, but the new technology makes slicing and dicing voter totals a science. It would not be a surprise if far less than 71 percent of the state’s voters opted for Republican House candidates – and certainly if significantly fewer than four out of five voters pulled the levers for Republican Senate candidates.

Second, coalitions this large are notoriously unstable things. Some master politicians in American history – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Franklin Roosevelt – have toyed with the idea that they might be able to overwhelm and eliminate the opposition party.

No matter how skilled the politician who tries it, such attempts always fail.

Part of the reason is that factions develop within those majorities – constituencies that demand that their agendas take priority over those that belong to other groups within the ruling party. Such elbowing for position always causes friction.

Last year during the fight over the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, we saw such jousting within the House and Senate Republican caucuses. Those tussles prompted hard feelings among those who wear the same GOP jersey – and, in some cases, those hard eelings haven’t softened.

This year’s anticipated debate over revising the state’s school funding formula cuts across party lines and could create similar fissures. It’s always hard to keep everyone singing together when the money’s getting handed out – and some folks are getting less than others.

Last, but most important, people who govern have to make hard choices. Each time they do, they risk losing votes.

At some point, the risk becomes reality – and even the strongest majority slips away.

Right now, because Democrats are all but irrelevant in Indiana state government, the responsibility for governing – and the risk that goes with it – belongs to Republicans.

And Republicans alone.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.